Mad Inches//Ryan Bradford


Saturday

 

 

 

Looks like there are ghosts around Critter’s feet, like twisting around his ankles.

 

Ha ha. Cool.

 

Not cool, bro. Cold. Hand shakes, fingers red. Fat flakes cover my knuckles. Careful not to drop the phone or else mom will kill me.

 

“Shot’s ready. Hurry up,” I shout. Critter floats toward me, snaking through freshies, board completely hidden underneath the ghosts. He dips out of view and then: flying. Momentum carries him into a twisted rodeo-flip. Hit record and try to follow his flight with the phone. Critter lands to the sound of fluffing pillows. Knees to chin. He digs his heel-edge in, sprays snow out like fifty feet. Powder’s been good all morning. Been snowing hard this way for hours. They say it’s not going to let up all week.

 

“You get it?” he asks. Push our goggles onto the top of our heads. His face steams from the face-shot of powder.

 

Ha ha. Face-shot.

 

Ha ha. Just kidding.

 

Hit the replay button. Sound from my phone is so trebly that Critter’s landing sounds like a click. Play it again. Got most of the flip. Return the phone to the inside pocket of my jacket. Steam rises out when I unzip it, and the cold that floods in is insane.

 

“It’s going to get like a million hits.”

 

The tops of the trees sway from the wind. Down here, though, we’re protected from the wind. Critter lights two cigarettes and places one in my mouth. Somewhere else on the mountain, a bomb explodes, trying to trigger an avalanche. Like listening to gunshots in slow motion. We smoke and listen to explosions. Nothing really to say. Critter’s my bro, but mostly just know him through Peter.

 

“You going to the thing tonight?” Critter asks.

 

The thing. Peter’s thing. His funeral. Peter’s dead now.

 

“Think so.” A snowflake hits the end of my cig. Sizzles. “You?”

 

“For sure. Gonna have a thing afterwards at my house. Small kickback.”

 

“Sick.”

 

He flicks his smoke into the snow. The yellow filter looks nasty against the white so I throw snow over it. I spit my smoke out and bury that one too. We listen to more explosions. We feel more explosions.

 

//

 

We ride under dead chairlifts. Pretty sure we’re the last ones on the mountain. Critter’s heel-to-toe makes radio waves in the snow. I follow, try to alternate my turns to make infinity signs or whatever. There’s an old guy shoveling snow at the bottom. He stops to watch us cross the plaza to the parking lot, leans on the handle of his shovel, holds his mittens out like he’s Jesus or something and yells, “Gonna be sick riding tomorrow.”

 

We yell back, “Fuck yeah.”

 

Parking lot’s full of huge, white mounds. We go from mound to mound, brushing snow off, revealing cars until we find Yoshi, Critter’s turquoise Mercury Tracer. Don’t speak as we clear the rest of the snow off. I run my arm up the windshield and across the top like I’m clotheslining a dude. Easily a foot of snow on top. Critter opens the hatchback and we throw our boards on top of the salt bags he keeps back there to put weight on the tires. Critter says four-wheeled drive is for pussies.

 

I pet the car like a dog. “Good girl, Yoshi,” I say. “Just kidding.”

 

We drive in silence. Sun goes down behind the clouds and the storm turns the sky purple. Pull out my phone and watch Critter’s rodeo flip a couple times.

 

Yoshi slides into our neighborhood, fishtails a little. Ha ha. Sweet moves, Yoshi. Take me home, old girl.

 

He drops me off. “See ya tonight,” he says. We fist-bump. He pulls out of the driveway, taps the horn a couple times. I grab my dick, stick out my tongue and throw devil horns. Then I swing my board like a shot put. It sails through the air and sticks in snow at an angle. Ha ha die motherfucker, I think, for some reason.

 

//

 

Mom’s all spazzed when I walk through the door.

 

“We’re supposed to leave in half-hour.” She’s got both hands to the side of her head, trying to put in an earring. She gets distracted by herself in the mirror, and yells for my sister. Katie enters phone first, her face lit up blue. Already know mom’s going to flip over her dress. “Is that what you’re wearing?” Mom asks, and then says: “It’s inappropriate.”

 

Katie rolls her eyes, but tries to force the hem of her skirt down past mid-thigh. “Oh my God, Mom, chill. I’ll wear a jacket or something.”

 

“Yeah, quit dressing like a fucking slut,” I say.

 

“Mom, did you hear what Kevin said?”

 

“Kevin, no swearing. Go get ready.”

 

Slide my hand over my head and let the beanie fall on the floor. Hair falls in my face. I turn to see if mom picks up the hat. She does. Nice. Katie’s already back on her phone, thumbs tapping on the screen. I poke her in the chest as I pass, hard enough to make her stumble backwards.

 

“Asshole,” she says.

 

Good times.

 

Pass by Dad’s office and stick my head in. He wears the black suit he wore to work yesterday. The poker game on his computer screen lights the room green. A shitload of coins fly into his account and he pumps his fist.

 

“Hey, Dad.”

 

“Hey, Kev.” He swivels in his chair to face me, stops midway to grab a sweating glass of whiskey with discs of ice floating on the surface. He downs the rest of it. Chug chug, I think, but chant it: chug! chug! Ha ha. Cool. “You go boarding today?” he asks.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Bet it was killer,” he says.

 

“Oh, for sure.”

 

“The commute was insane,” he says. “People skidding all over the place in the canyon. “

 

“Nice.”

 

“Better go get ready though, or your mom’s gonna flip her shit.” He winks at me, tries to drain more of his empty glass.

 

“Right on, Dad.” I repeat it in my mind: right on, Dad.

 

Throw my jacket and snow pants in the corner of my room, upload Critter’s video, jerk off to a video of a girl eating out another girl, take a shower, check the stats on Critter’s video—more than 200 views already—and get dressed. Hair dries straight so I whip my head to the side, swooping just above my eyebrows. Walk out to the living room and Mom’s watching TV. She seems chill now. Katie thumbs through her phone and Dad’s in his office.

 

“Sorry. Lost track of time.”

 

Mom turns off the TV, stands and straightens her dress out.

 

“Please tuck your shirt in, Kevin,” she says.

 

Sure, whatever.

 

//

 

Dad drives like twenty miles per hour and says, under his breath, “goddamn motherfucker.” I laugh. Nobody else says anything. We pass cars off to the side of the road, pointing the wrong way and with their hazards on.

 

“They just had to schedule it on this night,” Dad says.

 

“Nobody could’ve known this would happen,” Mom says.

 

“Meteorologists know.”

 

“That’s not what I’m talking about.” She turns around in the front seat. Her outline is black against the headlights and the snow pounding the windshield. “How are you holding up, Kev?”

 

“All right, I guess.”

 

Katie stares out the window, phone resting on her lap, shining blue all up under her face like she’s telling a ghost story.

 

We’re nearly an hour late to church, but it doesn’t look like we’ve missed anything. Relieved to see that it’s a closed coffin. Heard it took two days to find him.

 

Walk over to the gang in the corner. Critter fist-bumps me again. His shirt is untucked. “You ride today?” Alex asks. Alex, or Alejandro, something Mexican, I don’t know.

 

“Yeah, dude. Was sick,” I say. Whisper it, actually, out of respect.

 

Lucy, Peter’s girlfriend—ex now, I guess—crosses the circle to hug me. Lucy’s super cute. Blonde and so skinny that I touch my elbows with my arms around her. Her eyes are red and puffy, circled by big mascara rings.  She whispers in my ear: “I’m pretty fucked up right now.” This close, I can smell her breath pretty hard.

 

“I’m sorry.” I place my hands on her hips and she cries into my shoulder. Critter raises his eyebrows and tilts his chin up. The bishop or whatever tells people to take a seat. Lucy pushes off me, wipes her eyes and stumbles back to her family. She trips on a chair and sort of laughs.

 

“We’ve come together to celebrate the life of Peter Long,” the bishop says, “a young soul who has touched the lives of so many people in this community, and whose memory will live on in our hearts.” He shuffles his notes, brings a pair of glasses to his face. Pull out my phone and check the stats on Critter’s video. More than a thousand views. I scroll through the comments. Lots of people writing in Spanish or French or something: taco burrito joo swee fatty gay jajajaja.

 

Jajaja? The fuck?

 

The preacher finishes his speech and opens it up for people to offer condolences. Everyone looks around and then down into their laps. People whisper, some sob. Look up just in time to see Peter’s dad, Mr. Long, walking up the front aisle.

 

“It’s always a shame when a parent outlives his children,” he says. Feel like I’ve heard that in a movie. “But Peter died—passed doing what he loved best.” His voice breaks. “He was always looking for adventure which, as many of us can agree on, made him a source of inspiration. Unfortunately, it was this risk-taking that led to his—” He doesn’t finish. “And I’m sure if he could do it all again, he wouldn’t change a thing.” Mr. Long sobs into the microphone and it kind of makes me want to cry too.  Mr. Long’s voice echoes in the church long after he steps away from the podium. He walks by the coffin and runs his hand along the black wood. I get this uncontrollable urge to touch it like Mr. Long, to place my cheek against it and feel the cold, smooth woodwork close to my teeth.

 

Watch Critter climb up to the podium. The fuck?

 

“I just wanted to say that I’m super sorry for your loss, Mr. Long.” He pauses and braces himself against the stand. Kind of seems a little dramatic. “Pete was a really great friend and a super sweet rider. More like a brother, really, at least to me and Kev.” He points out at me and a few people turn their heads. “On the day he, um—” Critter doesn’t say it. “It was sunny. Like, really beautiful. A real, real great day for riding. It’d snowed, I think, the night before. We were filming stuff in the pipe, but Peter wanted to hike the top. He kept saying he wanted to hike the bowls. And, like you said, Mr. Long, there was no way talking him down once he made up his mind. We told him that we’d meet him up there after a few more runs, but before he left he told me—and I’ll never forget this—he said ‘Look at this beautiful place’ and he opened his arms like an angel and I saw this glint in his eye. And yeah, it was beautiful—the mountain, the sun, the fresh pow and trees. Then he left. It was the last time we saw him. He just had this contagious lust for life, you know? Carpe diem, I guess.” Critter stares at me from the podium. “We were on our way up to the top when we heard the crack, like a mile away. The whole western face of the bowl slid, and I just knew that Peter was there, doing what he loved until the end.” Critter stands straight, looks to the ceiling, holds a fist up and says, “This one’s for you, Pete.”

 

Put my head down, let the hair cover my face, and think: fuck you fuck you fuck you.

 

//

 

Two hours later, we’re standing around a keg in Crit’s backyard, hella high on Vicodins and sipping beer out of plastic cups. Just me, Alex, Crit and a couple other dudes I don’t know. At some point, this keg-trip turns into a smoke break, and we shiver in T-shirts as a couple peeps inhale cigarettes. My beer’s full, but don’t remember filling it, and then can’t remember how long we’ve been outside. Some part of me feels the cold, but it’s like a distant feeling. Someone announces that it’s time to chug, so we chug.

 

“To Peter,” we say afterwards.

 

House feels suffocating when we come in from the cold. Pull my collar away from skin, realize that it’s just beer and not sweat. Feel kind of like asking Critter for another Vicodin, but get distracted by Lucy who bursts into the room with a dude grabbing her around the waist.

 

“Kev!” she hiccups. “I thought you left.”

 

“Was just outside, yo.”

 

She laughs and tries to squirm out of the guy’s hands. She forces his hands down like a pair of pants that she could climb out of. He tries to pull her out of the room again and she fake-moans at me, “Help me, Kev. I think this guy is trying to rape me.”      “Whoa,” the guy says and lets go. He holds his hands in the air like he’s being held up.

 

“Just kidding, duder,” she says, but he’s already gone, disappeared. Dried mascara has left dark trails down her cheeks. She falls into he couch, which is deeper than expected. She flails. Peep some good upskirt before she crosses her legs again.

 

“I want to hear some music,” she says. She tilts her cup against her lips before realizing it’s empty. “Play some music, Crits.”

 

Critter—slicing fruit on a massive, marble kitchen island for some reason—picks up a silver stick and points at the console under the flat-screen. Techno shit spills out of an invisible surround system and Lucy bobs her head out of time. Her eyes drift to me. I look to Critter.

 

“Come sit by me,” she says.

 

“Kev, come here,” Critter says. Waves me over with the knife. I go to him. A thin layer of fruit juice spreads out across the counter, reflecting the track lighting above us. He fills two plastic cups with vodka, up to the first line, then fills the rest with Red Bull. “Don’t drink this yet,” he says, handing me the cup. He takes the Vicodin out of his pocket, moves to a dry spot on the counter and pours four pills out. He wipes the knife off on his pants, and crushes the pills with the flat part of the blade before cutting them into two lines. Sweet tracks. Let it snow. Ha ha. Look over to Lucy, and she’s dancing with some dude whose name is Morgan, I think. She’s kind of grinding his knee.

 

“This is called a Russian blowjob,” Critter says. “You snort, you drink. It’s got bite. Get it?”

 

“Ha ha. Totally,” I say.

 

“You guys doing blowjobs?” Lucy yells over the music.

 

“Boys only.”

 

“Gay,” she says. Critter snorts his line with a fifty-dollar bill. I watch Lucy run her fingers through the dude’s hair. “You won’t let this guy rape me tonight, will you, Kev?”

 

“Hell no,” I say. Critter hands me the fifty. Snort my line and miss the next thing Lucy says. The space behind my eye burns. Tap cups with Critter.

 

“To Peter,” he says.

 

 

Sunday

 

 

Wake with the spins. Hit my head against the underside of the beer pong table when I sit up. Hear the sound of someone cleaning up beer cups. Roll out to see who it is, but when I stand up, vision splits and mouth fills with vom. Run to the kitchen and puke in the sink, all over the rotting citrus peels and watermelon rinds Critter left from last night.

 

Some old lady holds a stack of empty beer cups. I can’t remember if it’s Critter’s mom or maid, so I just say “hey” and wash the puke and fruit down the drain. She moves to the opposite side of the kitchen island and scrubs at the dry fruit juice. Look down her shirt. Hella stacked. Think that maybe I’d hit it, like on a desert island or whatever. Let her teach me something about love. Ha. Nice. Just kidding. Step on another cup, feel it break under my foot. “Here’s another one,” I say.

 

Head toward the front door. Pass by the family room and see Alex propped up in a recliner, beanie pulled down over his eyes and a beer cradled between his legs. Lucy’s asleep and on another couch with that Morgan guy. Her shirt’s riding up.

 

Open the door and the cold doesn’t feel good, but it feels right.

 

//

 

Walking home is like TV static on mute. More abandoned cars line the road, their hazard lights barely visible. Snow falls fat and dry. A big golden dog bounds through the snow, smiling and wagging its tail. Pat my thighs. Dog takes the invitation and jumps on my chest. Just a dog day afternoon. Hold his paws so it’s like we’re dancing. Clumps of snow hang in the fur on his chest. He tries to lick my face.

 

“Who’s a dog?” I say. Push him off and pick up a handful of snow. He knows this game and crouches. Throw the snowball, but it falls apart before leaving my hand. The dog runs until a faraway voice calls “Rosco.” He forgets the game and dashes off.

 

I’m a dog, I’m Rosco. Where my bitches at?

 

The fam’s chilling when I get home. Dad’s hitting up poker and mom and Katie watch some chick show.

 

“How was the party?” Mom asks, without turning.

 

“It was all right.”

 

“What’d you do?”

 

“Just hung out. Stayed up late. Watched some movies. Super tired now.”

 

“Hungover, I bet,” Katie says.

 

“Shut up.” Flick her ear.

 

“We’re thinking of Mexican food tonight,” Mom says. “Don’t really feel like grocery shopping with the weather. Kind of a lazy day.”

 

“Sounds good.” Hover over Katie and watch her text with her friend Sophie. “Dear Sophie, I am a stupid bitch, love Katie.”

 

“Kevin,” she squeals. “Go away.”

 

Face still feels heavy from the booze. Head downstairs and sleep until dark. Dreams are nightmares, but can’t really remember them. Critter’s maybe a zombie maybe.

 

//

 

Wake up and check the stats on Critter’s flip video. It’s got mad views. In the comments, somebody says sorry to hear about Peter. Another comment down says what happened? Another one says murder. Hit reply and write fuck u faggot, open a new tab and write an email to Critter. Subject line: wtf

 

 

 

hey man, what’s up? thought about what you said at peter’s funeral and just think it’s really not cool that you were lying about what peter said.

 

 

 

Hit send. Open a new email to Lucy, subject line: hey

 

 

 

hey I know it’s totally not my business but I thought you dancing with those guys last night was super not cool. I mean I know peter was your boyfriend, but he was also one of my best friends and thought it was just real disrespectful. and it’s like I know you were real drunk and all but you were pretty much asking for it with those guys lol

 

 

Hit send on that one too. Go into my closet, push the clothes to the side and slam my fist into the wall behind them. Don’t stop until a butthole crack appears. Try to flick the stinging out of my fingers.

 

Go upstairs and Styrofoam containers are all over the counter, open like they’re singing or something. See tacos with gray meat, a burrito, taquitos, nachos, carne fries. Realize I haven’t eaten all day and still got the taste of vomit in my mouth.

 

“We didn’t want to wake you,” Mom says.

 

“We got them to deliver. Only had to pay them twenty bucks,” Dad says, super proud of this. “Took them long enough. Geez.” He takes a long pull on a beer and belches. Mom laughs.

 

“Are you guys drunk?”

 

“Whoops,” Mom says.

 

“They said on the noose,” Katie says, slurring.

 

“And you’re letting her drink too?”

 

“Jus a little,” Mom says.

 

Katie hiccups. “They said no school tomorrow.”

 

Dad cracks two beers and puts one in front of me. “No way I’m going to work either.”

 

Mom says: “Snow day.”

 

//

 

Later, owning noobs on Call of Duty, blowing heads off, and Critter texts me: what up? wanna go riding?

 

The fuck?

 

Type yeah sure.

 

Yoshi pulls up half hour later, her headlights sweep across the slit of my basement window that isn’t filled with snow. Mom’s asleep on the couch, Dad’s in his office, and don’t know where Katie is. Tell Dad I’m going out boarding and he says, “Whoa, wild man.”

 

Yoshi’s headlights look far away in the storm, like sleeping eyes maybe. My board’s still poking out of the snow in our front yard, but only the tip. Just the tip. Ha ha. Just kidding. Feels like a hundred pounds when I pull it out of the powder and hold it over my head. Yoshi honks and I dance in her headlights.

 

Lucy sits in front, Alex in the back. Sit next to him and our jackets and snowpants feel huge in the backseat, like Yoshi’s power seems diminished from back here, or something. Feels childish. Everyone’s face looks like it’s made of cement. Some shitty ska band plays from Yoshi’s speakers. Our boards rest diagonal in the back and their noses rub against my head. Lucy’s hair falls behind her seat, sways in front me. We drive out to the Boonies, what we call the end of the neighborhood where they’re building new houses. Empty frames look like skeletons out here. Critter stops the car.

 

“Who’s first?”

 

Alex gets out. Critter follows, but keeps the car running. The ska becomes Social D in the speakers and Lucy turns it down. Yoshi feels like she’s trembling in the snow. Lucy rakes her fingers through her hair, petting it so it falls back on her side of the seat. She checks her phone and thumbs through texts, too fast to read them.

 

“How’s it going?” Ask it because it feels like I need to say something.

 

“You know,” she says. Clicks the phone off and turns the music up.

 

“What are we doing?” I yell.

 

Critter opens the back door and throws a rope to me. “Loop it around that handle.” I run the rope around the handle above my door and pull it close to my chest. “Don’t let go,” Critter says. He gets behind the wheel. The rope extends longer into the storm than I can see. Critter taps the horn and Alex tugs three times from the darkness.

 

“Hit it,” I say, feeling dumb immediately.

 

Yoshi’s tires spit snow behind her. She gains speed. The rope sways back and forth, bends against the doorframe and then the opposite side. Alex yells. He whoop whoops. Ha ha. Nice. Critter ups the speed to 32. Focus on the darkness beyond the car, the snowflakes flying backwards, like light speed in reverse.

 

Critter slows then stops. We switch riders. Alex says it’s fucking dope.

 

My turn. Give the same tugs that Alex did, and feel my arms almost rip off. Tears streak back into my ears, and snowflakes rush into my mouth. Feels like suffocating, but Jesus: Face-shots every turn. Mad freshies. Hit a bump in the road, fly briefly, enough for a toe-grab, land with a poof.

 

Critter pulls me into a cul des sac and lets me ride the circumference twice before he stops. Let go of the rope, pull a little switchfoot, my heel-edge catches and I whip backwards into the soft pow. Critter and Alex stand over me, each has a burning cigarette in their mouth.

 

“Pretty tight, right?”

 

“Super tight,” I say, unbuckling.

 

Critter holds a cigarette out for me and cradles the lighter close to my face. The dome light in Yoshi turns on and Lucy turns around. She looks pissed.

 

“What’s up with her?” Alex asks.

 

“I know, right?” Critter says. “Being a total bitch. Kevin knows what I’m talking about.” He smacks me in the chest. We finish the cigs. Kind of feel like Peter would be happy if he saw us together right now.

 

For that reason, I say, “To Peter.”

 

Back in the car, Critter says, “Hey, Lucy, Kevin was wondering why you were being such a slew-bag tonight.”

 

“I guess I’m just always asking for it.” She turns around in her seat and it’s the first time she looks at me tonight.

 

Fucking Critter.

 

“I think it’s your turn to ride,” Critter says.

 

“I don’t want to,” Lucy says. “I want to go home.”

 

“It’s fun.”

 

“No.”

 

“Can’t go home until you ride.”

 

“What the shit?” she says.

 

“It’s real fun,” Alex says.

 

“Fuck you guys.” The snow has already made a thin layer on the windshields, and I think that being buried right now would not be so awful.

 

“You can do it, Lucy. It’s fun. Really,” I say. “Just do it.”

 

“I hate you guys.” She gets out, pulls her board from the back and disappears in the snow. There’s sour excitement in my gut. Critter, Alex and I wait without speaking. The Social D sounds weak coming out of Yoshi’s speakers.

 

Feel the rope tug and yell hit it.

 

Yoshi lurches out of the cul de sac and heads farther out into the desolated redevelopment wasteland. The rope swings back and forth between the sides of the open backdoor. My fingers ache from holding the rope so tight.

 

“Check this out,” Critter yells. The speedometer rises to 40. Yoshi barrels forward through the powder. Critter touches the steering wheel and the car fishtails. Wheels spin against our trajectory at an angle. The temperature gauge nears H. Certain that if we hit a curve, we’re dunzo. Lucy screams.

 

“Faster,” I say.

 

Yoshi bounces over something. Our laughing hiccups as Alex and I hit the roof. We swerve. Critter wrestles with the wheel, steering into the slide. The rope pops forward and goes limp. Critter jumps on the brakes with both feet. Yoshi spins a 180, Alex falls into me. Feel the opposite side of the car lift up. We slide to a stop. I cover my mouth. I don’t know why, but everything’s kind of funny.

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“Did we lose Lucy?”

 

Ha ha. Loose Lucy. Just kidding.

 

Get out of the car, snow’s up to our knees. Yoshi’s tracks look violent, like a panicked animal trying to get away or something. Follow them back until we find Lucy, sitting, still buckled to her board and crying.

 

“Assholes,” she says.

 

“Don’t be mad. We were just kidding.”

 

“Check it out,” Alex says.

 

In the middle of Yoshi’s tracks lies a pile of black, snow-matted fur.

 

Rosco. Tire tracks running right through him. Kneel down and brush the snow off his face. Dead.

 

“So sorry, boy.” Pick him up and place him on the side of the road. I watch the snow cover him. Doesn’t take long.

 

 

 

Monday

 

 

 

Wake up to dad losing his shit, screaming into the phone. Go upstairs to see what the deal is and the reek of leftover Mexican food hits me hard. A small cloud of flies buzzes around the Styrofoam containers on the counter.

 

Buzz buzz tengo hambre, I think in fly voice. Ha ha. El fly-o. Then I see the snow and try to remember the last time I saw flies in winter. Outside, snow has piled against the sliding glass door nearly to the handle. Waist deep.

 

“We’re living in filth here,” Dad says. “Who do I have to talk to fix this? No, listen to me. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I’m a goddamn taxpayer. Don’t put me on hold—” He takes the phone away from his ear and strangles it. He pantomimes blowing his brains out. “They say no trash pick-up today because of the storm.”

 

“Bummer.”

 

“Unbelievable,” he says. He puts the phone back to his ear and turns to the fridge. I pick through the stale food, pull out a stray taquito covered with pale guac and sink my teeth in it the stale-soft shell. Mouth fills with saliva and salt. Not bad. Brush the flies away and eat the rest.

 

Dad calls the phone a cocksucker and hangs up. He pounds a beer. “Bullshit,” he mutters, sees me eating the food and gives an approving nod.

 

Our living room fills with yellow flashing as a line of snowplows race past our house, turning the street into a canyon. Think about a wall of snow covering Rosco and feel relieved. Circle of life, or something.

 

Phone’s blowing up when I return to my room. Text from Critter: wanna ride today?

 

Type sure.

 

//

 

Takes forever to get to the resort.  Can’t even really see the road, just the reflectors that mark the shoulders. Critter smokes a cigarette, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. His smoke gets sucked out a little opening in his window. We barrel through snow that rises above Yoshi’s headlights. We carve our own valley.

 

A team of hooded employees clears the ski resort’s empty parking lot. The number of shovels scraping against asphalt sounds super harsh, super metal. One of the figures cuts in front of our path and his shovel bumps against Critter’s foot. “Yo, bro,” Critter says. The dude keeps walking.

 

The lift runs with no one manning it. No lines, not a soul in sight. Metal chairs swing around the carousel faster than usual. The sight of empty chairs heading up and disappearing into the storm ties me up hard.

 

We slide into place and the chair swings around and smashes into the back of our legs before scooping us up. It hurts like that was on purpose, somehow.

 

Wind rocks our chair. Blasts through the vents in my goggles and whips water out of my eyes.

 

“Wanna know what’s fucked up?” Critter asks. I think I see a person on one of the opposite chairs, riding down. Turn around to try to see him again, but he’s gone. “Peter’s body,” he says. “Think about it. It’s too snowy to bury him. He’s just like hanging out in the morgue or whatever until spring.”

 

“Jesus,” I say. Yeah, pretty fucked up, Crits. Thanks for the reminder, dude. Anything else you want to say? Great speech at his funeral, by the way. B-T-Dubs. Ha. Just kidding. Bury my face in my jacket collar. Faraway explosions trigger avalanches.

 

Suddenly, Critter asks, “What’s up with you and Lucy?”

 

“Nothing, why?”

 

“I dunno. Just curious, maybe. I mean, none of my business.”

 

“There’s nothing between us. Think she’s pissed at me, actually.”

 

“Oh.”

 

The chairlift stops. We swing, suspended. Listen to more distant bombs. “Never really noticed how cute she was,” Critter says.

 

“Yeah, super cute.”

 

“Kind of a bitch though. Or, you know, can be, sometimes.”

 

“For sure,” I say. And then say “chicks” like it’s punctuation.

 

Thirty minutes pass. Fingers burn from the cold. Ball my hands into fists within my gloves. Left foot aches from the board hanging from it. Critter raps classic Eminem lyrics into his jacket. Look down, can’t even tell how high we are.

 

“Fuck this,” Critter says. He slides off the seat and disappears into the storm below.

 

Wait for a couple seconds. Call out his name. Hold my breath, close my eyes and push myself off too. Floating in endless white. Can’t even tell when I hit the ground.

 

//

 

That night, Dad orders Mexican food again, says it’s the only place that still delivers. Food arrives an hour later. Hombre hands over the three plastic bags of Styrofoam containers, so full that the plastic stretches translucent at the corners.

 

“Are the roads muy peligroso?” Dad asks, all twangy and white. He pantomimes clutching a steering wheel and flails around.

 

“Si. Peligro, señor.”

 

“What’s el damage-o?” Dad pays with cash, gives the guy a twenty-dollar tip. “Oh, hey,” he says. “Can you do something for me?” He moves aside so the delivery driver can see our kitchen and the food containers from the night before. Dad waves like he’s displaying a magic trick. “Any chance you could take this away for us?”  The delivery driver opens his mouth to say something, then closes it and shakes his head. “Busy night,” he says. “And the storm.”

 

“There’s another ten bucks in it for you.”

 

 “I’m sorry.” The delivery man turns around and high-steps through the snow, following the prints he brought upon arrival, sinking down to his thighs.

 

Dad slams the door. He takes the food into the kitchen, slices the bows off the bags and lets the new containers spill on top of the old ones. He waves a cloud of flies away. “Lazy asshole.”

 

“Jeez, Dad,” Katie says, pinching a magazine page in the center. “Chill.”

 

Mom mutes the TV. “Hey, Kev, I was just thinking about that speech your friend Critter made at the funeral the other night. That was nice.” She places a wine glass to her lips.

 

“It was all right, I guess.”

 

“Critter’s hot,” Katie says.

 

“Critter’s full of shit,” I say.

 

“Kevin,” Dad says.  “Watch it.” He pulls bottles of beer from the fridge, holds them by the neck between his fingers. “Brewski?”

 

“Is Critter his real name?”

 

“Duh, Mom,” Katie says.

 

Take two of Dad’s beers, one of the bags of food, and retreat downstairs. Try to check email, but the Internet’s down. Turn off the lights and eat in the dark. For some reason, the night seems brighter than the day, when grays become purple and blue.

 

//

 

Phone buzzes in the middle of the night, bright screen fills my room with shadows. A text from Critter: Wanna ride?

 

Type sure.

 

They’ve already got the rope hanging out of Yoshi’s back door when they pull up. Lucy sits in the front next to Critter, laughing at something. Open the door. Pantera and booze breath spill out. Alex fist bumps me. “Sup, negro?” he says. Critter turns the radio up and takes Yoshi out to the Boonies. Lucy turns around and says something to me, but I can’t hear over the music. Pretend like I’m also drunk and squint my eyes. Sort of want to lean forward and grab her face and stick my tongue in her mouth. Bet she’d let me do it right now. Yeah, bitch, you know you want it. Ha ha. Just kidding.

 

When the houses give way to skeleton frames, Critter stops the car. “You’re first, Kev.”

 

“I want to drive,” Lucy says. “Let me drive.”

 

“You wasted, girl.”

 

“C’mon, you owe to me for last time.”

 

Critter turns around and looks at us. Alex shrugs.

 

“Whatever.”

 

I strap my snowboard on and find the triangle at the end of the rope. Tug it a couple times and watch as Yoshi’s taillights disappear. Ready and leaning back this time so my arms don’t get pulled out again. We gain speed. I surf the street, weaving S’s between Yoshi’s tracks. Throw tails of snow out with each turn. Switch feet, ride goofy, hold the triangle behind my back, ride backwards.

 

The rope jerks to the right and I nearly lose my grip. Hear a scream and a dull collision. Yoshi’s taillights appear. Going too fast. Slam into the back of the car. Feel my ribs bend into my heart.

 

Come back to the sound of Critter yelling. “Fuck. My fucking car. Jesus.” Lucy says that she’s sorry. Move to the front of the car and see Yoshi’s hood folded against a snow bank. Damn. “Fucking chicks, man. Women drivers,” Critter says.

 

 “It was an accident,” Lucy says.

 

We wait in the storm for someone to offer any sort of apology. A plume of smoke rises out of the car’s hood, floats upward. Kind of feel that it’s Yoshi’s spirit going up to heaven or something. It doesn’t take long before the metal cool enough for the snow to cover the hood. The car slowly becomes part of the landscape.

 

Critter opens his mouth to unleash on Lucy, but we’re struck by red and blue flashing lights before he can say anything. A black police SUV emerges from the storm. Its flashers jolt the atmosphere, like electrify it maybe.

 

The cop steps out with the stiffness that comes from wearing too many layers. He waddles toward us like doi doi I’m a cop doi. Up close, notice that he’s just an old-ass guy: a wrinkled face framed by a furry square hat and earmuffs.

 

“You the kids who’ve been pulling each other? Been getting complaints.”

 

“No,  sir,” Alex says.

 

He points his light at Yoshi. “Did you crash?”

 

“Just a little accident. Nothing to worry about” Critter says. The cop moves close to him, shines the flashlight in his face.

 

“I’ll decide what I need to worry about.” He walks to each of us, inspecting us at close range. “Your parents know you’re out here?”

 

“They don’t care,” Lucy says. The cop swings his light to her. She squints and stumbles backwards, places her hand against Yoshi to regain her balance.

 

“You kids been drinking?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“Well, I smell it. Especially on this one.” He blasts Lucy with the light again. “Ma’am, could you step this way, please?”

 

I look at Critter and then Alex. We lower our goggles. Cover our faces. We become interchangeable.

 

The cop takes Lucy to his car. Watch them talk. Lucy takes a step backward. “What do you think you’re doing?” she screams.

 

“What’s going on?” Critter yells.

 

“This guy’s trying to grab me.” We run toward the cop and surround him.

 

The cop sweeps each of us with the flashlight. “Absurd.”

 

Critter whips out his phone, hits record on the camera. “What’d you say to our friend, sir?”

 

“To serve and protect,” Alex yells.

 

“Put that away,” the cop says and tries to swipe the phone out of Critter’s hands.

 

“I’m within my rights, dude.”

 

The cop takes another swipe and I lunge forward, arms extended. Shove and feel the frail person underneath the parka, watch his unbalanced body become horizontal. Hear a snap when he lands on his arm. He cries like a bitch. Alex takes the keys of the patrol car and chucks them. We run. We climb the snow bank that lines the road and tumble into the white field below, where the snow rises to our waists and we have to throw our shoulders to wade through it. Look behind to see the faint red and blue strobe over the ridge, and I notice the snow filling in our trail. Feel kind of like it will eat us too if we stop. We reach the skeleton of a half-completed house and take shelter in the basement. Critter lights a cigarette and for a second it’s just his face, floating, orange and wicked in the dark. “To Peter,” he says. He passes the smoke to Lucy and his face disappears.

 

Tuesday

 

 

Can’t remember how I got home last night, but wake up to mom knocking on my door.

 

“You awake, Kev?” She tiptoes in, picks up all the socks on my floor and puts them in the basket she’s got under one arm. “Doing a load of whites,” she says. Ha ha. White load. Just kidding. Hear Dad screaming through the ceiling, and Mom shrugs: what can you do? “He’s been on the phone with the Internet company all morning.”

 

“Is school canceled again?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I just sort of assumed. ” She winks, “TGI snow day, am I right?”

 

Swipe my phone to check email and video stats or whatever, but everything’s a failed connection. Just fall back to sleep.

 

//

 

The kitchen smells like an asshole when I go upstairs for food. Open a random Styrofoam box and immediately drop it. The impact sends a family of maggots airborne and they spill out onto the counter. “Fucking shit,” I say. From his office, Dad tells me to watch my language.

 

“There are maggots, Dad.”

 

“Not in all of them.”

 

End up with a box of cold and soggy nachos that look faded. Scrape the cheese and suck it off my finger. Pinch some gray meat into my mouth and hold it in my cheek while watching the maggots climb over each other. I lower my thumbnail into one and burst it.

 

Go to Dad’s office and watch him play solitaire on his computer. From behind, his shoulders look slumped like an upside down U. My poor old man. He turns around and motions to the game. “Internet’s gone. Have to settle for this.”

 

“Someone should clean up those maggots,” I say.

 

“Yeah, they’re gross aren’t they?”

 

“Disgusting.”

 

Dad laughs. His eyes shift to the screen. He clicks and three cards fold out. He turns back to me. “We just have to see this through, okay kiddo? It can’t snow forever.” Then he’s done with the conversation and turns into the upside-down U again.

 

My phone buzzes. It’s a text from Critter: Yoshi, midnight.

 

Type sure.

 

//

 

That night, I open the front door and just see a white wall with the imprint of a doorknob pressed into it. It remains solid for a moment before crumbling into our house. I step out onto the slope and close the door behind me. I swim, push and punch my way through. Sweating by the time I make it to the road, which really isn’t a road anymore, but a walkway with walls that rise over my head. Turn and head toward the Boonies. Pass a couple people on my way down, bundled unrecognizable and hunched against the cold. Everyone mumbles. The high snow makes it echo. Makes me feel, like, insane.

 

The walkway opens up into a circle. Yoshi and the cop car burn at its center. The perimeter has refrozen where the fire can’t reach, turning the clearing into a smooth, shining amphitheater. Alex, Critter and Lucy hang out around the flames, smoking cigarettes. Lucy wears a bra. The other two are shirtless.

 

“Anarchy, bro,” Alex says. He pretends a can of lighter fluid is his dick and pisses into the flame. Turn away from the fireball. Lucy whoop whoops. Find myself unzipping my own jacket. Let it fall like old skin. Take off my shirt. Lucy looks at my abs. I flex. She turns back to the fire and puts the cigarette to her mouth. Alex shoots another stream of gasoline in the fire and I don’t flinch this time. Feels like we should be shouting or dancing or something, but it’s only Alex who’s running around, acting all loco.

 

 Breathe deep, open my chest to the fire. My skin feels too small. Look over and see Critter’s hand around Lucy. All I can say is “Dude, there’s your car.” Ha ha. “Just kidding.”

 

“I know,” he says.

 

“Yoshi.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

It’s not long before I get bored.

 

 

Wednesday

 

 

The house is dark in the daytime because snow covers every window. It looks gray when you’re under it. The lights dim and buzz from a struggling power supply. Swipe at my useless phone. Click away at my useless computer. Try to masturbate to my imagination. Throw on my snow clothes and open the front door, face a snow wall pressed so hard against the door that it’s like looking at a second door. Stand on my tiptoes and try to look through the orange-wedge imprint left by the window. Knock on the snow door a couple times. Ha ha. Hello? Anyone there? Then a crack forms and a black mitten pushes through, followed by a black sleeve. Jump back. Watch that black arm extend out, flail like it’s trying to pull me back in. Hurry and slam the door. Lock it out.

 

Just kind of staring in my room. Still kind of terrified by the arms in the snow, but also mostly drunk. Took a bottle of Dad’s vodka. Katie’s been in and out, taking shots too, and I can’t tell if her visits are getting closer together or if I’m just getting drunker. On the third or fourth visit, she asks why I’m not at the party. “The fuck you talking about?” She points upward.

 

Upstairs feels sticky and ripe. Smells like booze and death and Yankee candles. A huge cheer greets us and it feels good but also kind of sad that nobody told me about the party until now. Seems that everyone is here: Lucy, Critter, Alex, plus some other bros whose names I can’t ever remember. Some of Katie’s hot friends sit in the corner, all drunk and shit, but nobody cares, because Dad and a big group of friends try to make conversation with them while Mom and the other wives watch from the other side of the room and frown. Even Mr. Long, Peter’s dad, is here. He picks through the stale tortilla chips on our counter.

 

“Sup, negro?” Critter says and brings me in for a half-hug.

 

“Dude, your parents are pretty tight,” Alex says. “Mine would never have a party like this.”

 

“How’d you guys get here?” I ask.

 

“Who are those girls in the corner?” Critter asks.

 

“My sister’s friends.”

 

“Damn.”

 

Lucy laughs. She crosses the circle and wraps her arms around me. “You guys are gross.”

 

Brush my fingers against the small of her back, move a pinky down to feel the top of her ass. “No, but really, how’d you guys get here? The snow is so deep.”

 

“The tunnels,” Lucy whispers in my ear. “Haven’t you seen them?” She takes my hands and leads me to the front door. I open it, look into the blue and black intestine that extends into darkness. Wind pushes my hair. “They go everywhere,” she says. “Wanna go in?”

 

“Not really.”

 

She turns to make sure Critter is watching. She pushes me into the tube and closes the door behind us. It’s dark as shit, but feel the heat coming off her. She presses me against the closed door, feel the rumbling of the party on my back. When she talks, her breath is hot on my face. “What if we’re stuck down here forever? It could be the end of the world and we wouldn’t even know it.” Can’t think of anything to say. Keep hearing shouts or screams or something out in the tunnels, but then I feel her tits pressed against my chest. “Relax,” she says. She undoes my pants and ice shifts as she gets on her knees.

 

“What about Critter?”

 

“Don’t worry about him,” she says. “Just pretend it’s the end of the world and he’s up there and he’s already dead.”

 

//

 

Lucy makes a big show of wiping her mouth when we get inside. Ask her if she wants a drink and she says “sure.” Critter follows me into the kitchen I bring out three cups, pour whiskey up to the first line in each.

 

“Not cool,” Critter says.

 

“What?”

 

“Just kidding.” He puts his arm around my neck and brings my face into his armpit. He lets go and holds his hand up for a high-five. Give him his drink instead. Leave him in the kitchen and find Lucy but she’s got another drink already, so I keep both drinks. Try to stand next to her, but she keeps moving away. Whatever. Hit it and quit it. Ha ha.

 

Fall into the chair and watch Dad flirt with Katie’s friends. Mom kneels down next to me and asks if I’m feeling okay, which kind of makes me want to cry for some reason. I tell her that I’m all right and maybe just tired maybe.

 

Don’t know what happens, but suddenly my cup’s empty and Mr. Long has replaced Mom. He’s asking me about Peter and all I can say is “I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”

 

Then Lucy replaces Mr. Long and it’s quieter. A lot of people are gone or passed out around me. She’s got a hand on my shoulder and says, “Critter’s hooking up with your sister.” Then she says, “A group of us are gonna try to get into the morgue to see Peter. Wanna come?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Something to do.”

 

“You going back in the tunnels?”

 

 “Yeah.”

 

“Bow chicka bow wow.” But really, the thought of seeing Peter and those tunnels terrifies me, and think it’s showing on my face. Don’t want her to notice, so I reach up to pull her in for a kiss. She dodges me. “Ha ha. Just kidding,” I say.

 

“You always are,” she says She does an impression of me in a bitchy voice: “Just kidding.”

 

“Fuck you, slut.”

 

She leaves and I hear the the wind blowing through the tunnels, feel the polar air as it floods into our house and then the smothering warmth of her shutting the door behind her.

 

 

Thursday

 

 

Can’t remember who lit the candle. Watch the shadows in the corner of my room dance, and even though it’s a small flame it feels like it’s sucking the oxygen out of my room, filling it with lilac flavor or some shit. Face feels insanely hot. Lean over the side of the bed and vom, like, lots. Sounds like someone emptying a bucket. A body shifts next to me. Oh yeah: some chick. Can’t remember her name. One of Katie’s friends. Kind of fat, but cute face.

 

The heat is worse upstairs. Hundreds of candles sway when I pass them, reaching out to take hold of me. My vision blurs. Mixing so many different scents was a mistake. Kick my way through a shallow layer of plastic cups and feel a spilled drink seep into my sock. The tiny, dancing flames could be torches, seen from far away.

 

Quiet sobbing makes me pause. Didn’t even notice Katie on the couch, knees to her chin.

 

“Hey.”

 

The tears stand on her eyes, makes them look like an animal’s, reflecting the all the flames. She wipes her nose with the length of her arm. “I think I drank too much,” she says.

 

“Are you okay?” I ask.

 

“I think so,” she says. Her face sours and she cries real ugly.

 

“Critter?” I ask.

 

She nods.

 

“Did he hurt you?”

 

“Not really. I don’t know.”

 

Sit next to her and remember Mom saying “snow day” a couple days ago. I almost put my hand on Katie’s shoulder, but then I don’t.

 

//

 

Try to feel heroic with my glove on the doorknob. Have puked two more times and I’m pretty sure that any strength I’ve ever had has been flushed with the booze and rotten Mexican food. Take a breath and unlatch the door. Wind blows it open and I stare into the tunnel. After spending so long in the garbage house, the cold wind tastes clean, smells new. Not as scary as I thought. Clutch my snowboard tight against me and step out.

 

By the time I hit the fork where the tunnel splits in two, my eyes have adjusted enough for the blacks to be gray. I look down one tunnel and then the other. Seems to be no difference between them, so I go right. Don’t make it five steps before a scream echoes around me. I freeze and let a black-bundled figure run past me. Press myself against the tunnel and feel a pack of dogs or wolves blast past. Their hungry snarls overwhelm the dude’s screaming. When I’m sure they’re gone, take a few more steps and see a naked dude, pale as the snow, coming toward me on all fours. He stops when he sees me, turns around, and gallops back into the darkness.

 

Fuck this.

 

Hoist my snowboard over my head and drive it into the side of the tunnel. I dig upward. Once I break through the icy shell of the tunnel wall, the snow turns soft, and gravity does most of the work for me. Powder falls in as the tunnel collapses. The ceiling turns from gray to blue to white. Climb up the slope the fallen snow has made. When I emerge, it’s blinding.

 

//

 

Maybe it’s heaven. Maybe I’m dead. Think about what Lucy said in the tunnel last night, about everyone being dead. Eyeballs burn from the brightness, and the sting moves into my head and my teeth. Pull my goggles down over my eyes and wait for the light entering my brain to slow down. Put a handful of snow in my mouth and wait for it to melt. World slowly comes into focus: high sun and blue sky. The storm is gone and has left a white blanket that extends toward the earth’s curvature in every direction except the one aimed at the black and purple-veined mountains that now look like deep-sea monsters.

 

Fresh pow. Mad chowda. Ha ha. Kind of wish Peter was here to see this. Or maybe he is. “To Peter,” I say out loud, and head toward those monsters.

 

//

 

Chimneys and the peaks of rooftops grow out of the melting snow. Take off my jacket and sweat in the sun. Feel a sunburn on the underside of my nostrils and chin from UVs reflected off the snow. Just the standard pain of being reborn, I think

 

Meet up with another set of tracks pointed toward the mountain. I walk in those since the snow has gotten so soft. Moving fast now. See a black figure far ahead, holding a board against his back, perpendicular to his body. Pretty sure I know who it is.

 

Together, we cross the melting plains.

 

Friday

 

 

Can’t remember when we got to the mountains. Can’t remember the nighttime either. Scrape my tongue against my lips and taste blood. Fall over and take a bite of snow right off of the earth, which doesn’t taste as clean as yesterday. My boots have soaked through and it feels like my feet are bloated and decaying.

 

Still, we climb.

 

//

 

Nearly trip over Critter because I’m thinking about a lot of violent stuff and not really paying attention. He sits on his board, head between his knees, and I realize that there are no more tracks to follow and we’re at the top of the mountain. I can see our town way at the bottom, part of a browning, emerging world. See the base of the resort and the lifts carrying TGIF people skipping out of work to ski.

 

Critter points to them. “Wanted to beat the rush,” he says.

 

I step to the edge and look down the bowl, at the pristine sheet waiting for us. “First tracks,” I say. “It’s going to be sick.”

 

“The sickest.”

 

We strap in and scoot to the edge until we our legs hang off and we feel the incline under our heels.

 

“Hey, man, I’ve been thinking.”

 

“Word,” Critter says.

 

“What’s up with you?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Like, what’s wrong with you?”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says.

 

“Never mind,” I say.

 

“On three?” he says.

 

“Sure.”

 

He counts to three and pushes off. For a little while, it’s like he’s not even touching the bowl, just parallel to it. Flying. He turns and disappears in his spray. His carves are shaped like God pressed His fingernail into the mountain. Pull out my phone, hit record, and wait.

 

Never realized how satisfying it would be to hear Earth crack open.

 

Feel the snow beneath my heels slide away and the entire mountain follows Critter down. The sheet of snow turns into boulders that tumble him invisible. When the snow hits the trees below at the bottom, it explodes upward like ocean spray against a rocky cliff.

 

//

 

A bus drops me off at the entrance to our neighborhood. Steam rises from the river running down the street. People shovel their driveways in T-shirts. Everyone waves.

 

Peel my snow clothes the moment I get in the door, just let them all drop to a big pile in the doorway. Mom’s putting away groceries and Katie’s flipping through her phone. Mom asks how the party was and I say it was all right. Take a bag of chips and retreat to the bathroom where I eat it all and suck water straight from the tap. I smell like two days of sweat. Turn on the shower and stand in it, letting the water hit my legs. Keep inching the knob hotter, waiting for the moment when it begins to hurt.


Ryan Bradford is the author of the novel Horror Business, as well as the founder and editor of Black Candies, a journal of literary darkness. He is the winner of Paper Dart’s 2015 Short Fiction Contest. His writing has appeared in Vice, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, New Dead Families and [PANK].